Forum and Online Discussion Board Netiquette

What is a forum or online discussion board?

A forum (or discussion board) is a tool for holding online conversations among a group of people asynchronously (i.e. without everyone needing to be present in the same room or at the same time). Each conversation (called a thread or topic) takes place in the form of messages, called posts.

There are some important differences from face-face conversations in the way people interact:

  • Posts are mostly written texts, without the help of vocal expression and body language to assist in getting the intended message across.
  • Replies can be made immediately, or over a few days, or a few weeks.
  • Participants can choose to consider, research and prepare their replies before they submit a post.
  • Posts are stored online and available to the group for future reference.
  • Depending on how the discussion board is set up, a post may need to be approved by a moderator after submission and before it becomes visible to the rest of the group.
  • Participants may be allowed to create new conversations with their own choice of topic – or they may only be able to reply to existing threads (created by a moderator).

In the University setting, forums and discussion boards are used for a variety of different purposes. They can provide a space to focus on particular learning activities, for group collaboration, or to hold a general class discussion. Forums can be set up for students to ask questions of each other and course staff, to share technical problems and solutions, or to explore specific course topics.

Discussion boards and forums can form part of the academic requirements for programs and courses. For example, student activity (such as the scope and frequency of posts) may be assessable items and contribute towards a course grade


The term netiquette, or ‘network etiquette’, refers to the informal rules of good online communication, founded on the principles of common courtesy and respect for individuals – their backgrounds and beliefs, their experience and expertise, resources, time and bandwidth. (Shea, 1994)

In the University setting, netiquette concerns guidelines for student-student and student-staff dialogue, such as the content of posts, their frequency and length, appropriate language, style and grammar.

Student behaviour in online discussion boards and forums should be guided by the University of South Australia’s Code of Conduct for Students and Guidelines for Students on Use of IT Facilities.

In brief, the three principles that underpin student behaviour at UniSA are:

  • acknowledgement that all members of the University community have rights
  • respect for the rights of others
  • recognition that rights come with responsibilities.

The University of South Australia recognises that contemporary Australia is made up of many cultures, including those of Indigenous Australians. It is committed to achieving reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples and believes that educational institutions have a particularly valuable contribution to make to this process by educating the community about the cultures, languages, history and contemporary experiences of Australia's Indigenous peoples.

As in other classroom spaces, University teaching staff in the online environment have a responsibility to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to learn – regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, social background, disability, sexual preference, or religious beliefs and customs – in an environment free from discrimination, bullying and harassment, where students feel safe to communicate various perspectives and views, and where freedom of expression is respected.

Equally, students are expected to respect the rights of others (both staff and students), as well as the academic requirements of programs and courses.